Thoughts

My vision for Transilvania

What follows here is a subjective, ideal scenario for my native region of the world, so if it doesn’t sit well with you, read this first sentence again.

I was born in a Saxon town in Transilvania called Medwesch. Its name in Romanian is Mediaș and in German, it’s Mediasch. However, its name originates from the Hungarian word “meggy” which means “sour cherry”. It’s entirely possible that the Medias region was known for its sour cherry trees. (Its name is spelled Medgyes in Hungarian). It recently celebrated its 750th anniversary, having been first mentioned in written documents on the 3rd of June, 1267.

Quick aside: as it turns out, I am half-Hungarian and I have sour cherry trees in our courtyard and garden. I love sour cherries and we make sour cherry liquor and sour cherry jam every autumn. Some of the trees here at home are almost as old as I am (over four decades) and one of them is possibly even older. This post has to do in large part with trees — not just sour cherry trees though.

My city is even older than its 750 documented years. Archeological findings in the area point to settlements that go back to the middle Neolithic period, certainly long before the Romans conquered what was previously known as Dacia and called its most beautiful region Transilvania, which means “through the forest” or “beyond the forest”. And here’s where we get to the crux of this post. Those neolithic people got to experience Transilvania in its most bountiful days, with old growth forests that stretched as far as the eye could see, with rivers and streams overflowing with pure water, with fertile fields set among rolling hills and mountains filled to the brim with precious metals and salt (which was more expensive than gold at certain times in history). That was an unpolluted, wild Transilvania with few settlements and long distances between them — the kind of world that made you seek and cherish human connections instead of being overwhelmed by overpopulation and left searching for quiet and solitude.

While some of the things that once were can’t be restored (such as the many, many thousands of tons of precious metals taken from our mountains), it is my dream that we roll back some of the damage that humans have done to this beautiful place and we restore some of the conditions that existed before there were too many of us around and we started messing about irresponsibly.

Here’s where the trees come in (the ones I mentioned a couple of paragraphs back). I’d like to see a massive reforestation effort take place in Transilvania, one where every available piece of land that’s not being used for agriculture is peppered with fast-growth and slow-growth trees. It should even be mandated that groupings of trees be planted in fields used for agriculture, for example one rectangular spot of 4m x 60m on every hectare of land, at a minimum.

I’d like to see common sense and clearly enforced measures in place when it comes to felling trees. What is clear is that we need wood for construction materials and for firewood, but what is also abundantly clear is that Romania has been cutting a great deal of wood illegally (about two thirds of the wood being cut in Romania per annum is cut illegally), so that needs to stop, even if it means armed forces will patrol the forests and shoot tree thieves on sight, be they regular people or employees of corporations.

Massive reforestation efforts, coupled with proper measures to check and control tree felling, would go a long way toward restoring Transilvania’s historic forests. And no tree cutting of any sort should be allowed in certain old-growth forests. We need to restore some semblance of the wild Transilvania in ancient woodlands and allow those old trees to stick around for a few hundred years more. Trees are more majestic and have more dignity in them than most people I see on a daily basis, yet dimwits with chainsaws think nothing of felling them illegally. I think that cruel sentiment should be mirrored back to them, and that’s why I am in favor of armed forces patrolling forests and shooting offenders on sight, without due process.

Together with the reforestation efforts, I’d like to see massive cleanups take place along all of the roadways in Transilvania. I’d like to see video cameras that work with mobile SIM cards and recharge from mini solar panels, mounted in hidden locations along the roads, and those people dumping construction debris or other garbage along the roads, identified, fined very serious amounts of money, and forced to clean up their own messes.

Furthermore, I’d like to see river and stream cleanups take place everywhere, with dredging where necessary to get the garbage and overgrown vegetation out and to restore proper water flow. We should have people in charge of the waters who are constantly maintaining the shorelines and keeping our waters clean. The harvesting of sand from the riverbeds should be done responsibly and only in select areas, after consultation with committees of geologists and archeologists, because the way it’s being done now absolutely destroys the riverbeds and the flow of the rivers.

When it comes to agriculture, I’d like to see more sensible, organic agriculture that employs crop rotations and allows certain plots of land to rest every seven years or so. I’m fed up with the ridiculous amounts of fertilizers and pesticides being dumped on our lands every year — much more than the recommended dosage from the manufacturer is sadly the norm when it comes to peasant farmers here. I’d like to see grazing lands used properly, by rotating the sheep and the goats and the cows so they don’t overgraze. The size of one’s herd or flock ought to be determined by the size of the land available to it, not by the projected year-end revenues, pumped up by extra tens or hundreds of head of cattle that have overgrazed the land and have needed extra hay to be trucked in from who-knows-where in order to support their feeding needs.

How about all the garbage left behind by the herders and shepherds every year? The hills are practically strewn with plastic bags and bottles of all kinds, and no one holds them accountable for it. How about the excessive use of communal water to feed thirsty crops in dry years, to the point where a village’s water supply runs dry and the water levels in people’s wells go down to the bedrock? That’s thoroughly irresponsible and heavy fines ought to be in place for those who water their crops excessively.

If you’re a regular reader, then you know my opinion on overpopulation already, but I think I’ll write about my thoughts on the ideal population density in the towns, cities and the countryside in a later post.

For now, I’d like you to close your eyes, like I do every once in a while, and try to imagine a Transilvania full of tall forests every which way you look, where cool breezes sway the tops of these beautiful trees and cool down the valleys below, where happy little streams that started as springs deep in the forests, flow unobstructed toward the bigger rivers, alongside scenic country roads that are clean and well-maintained. Should you drive on those roads, you’ll enter a village or a town every once in a while, places where people are productive and work the land or work in the crafts or run a shop or a business, or perhaps tend herds of cows and sheep, but everyone sees to their work and to their household and makes a solid contribution to their community and society. That’s what I’d like to see in my Transilvania.

And it starts with the trees. We need to get the trees growing back in the forests.

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Events

An evening party

These are photographs taken at a recent evening party held by Christian Rummel at his place in Reichesdorf (Richis) here in Transilvania. Christian worked his way up from apprentice to craftsman and journeyman and is now a master carpenter working out of Reichesdorf. He is in demand all over Southern Transilvania.

He was one of the instructors who led the recent restoration workshop at our Kirchenburg (fortified castle-church) in Magarei (Pelișor), which we are restoring through our non-profit NGO, Asociatia P.A.T.R.U. This particular workshop focused on the reconstruction of the staircase to the clock tower using medieval methods and tools. I’ll have photos from that workshop posted to our NGO’s website in a few days.

In one of the photos, you’ll be able to see an old Saxon who is the guide and caretaker of the Kirchenburg in Richis, and whom we met 10 years ago, when we first visited that church. I’ll let you compare the photos from the two posts and discover him among the people by the fire.

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Places

A spring outing to the forest

There’s a forest near the village of Pelișor (where we’re restoring the fortified church and parochial house through our NGO) that we love to visit. It’s the same forest where I took these other photos. It’s a welcoming place with lovely trees, mostly oak and beech, where we can walk undisturbed or sit down and take in the fresh air and the sights and sounds of nature. We visit whenever we can. These photos were taken this spring during one such outing. Enjoy!

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Events

Photos from a recent snowstorm

I know late winter snowfalls are a hassle for most people. I know. Especially after spring seems to have arrived. Having to deal with piles of snow after dealing with it all winter long is not fun for most people.

I am not most people. I love winter. I love snow. I love the cold. And when more cold weather comes, I enjoy it. Like this recent snowstorm. I went outside and took photos in the thick of it. Came back wet, because the snow was melting as it was falling. My camera was thoroughly wet. My lens was wet. Neither of the two are waterproofed. Thank goodness they’re still working.

Remember, it’ll be warm soon enough, and before we know it, it’ll be so disgustingly warm that we’ll be sweating through our clothes and our cars’ ACs won’t be able to handle all the heat. That’s disgusting weather for me. That’s filthy weather for me. It’ll be here soon enough, unfortunately. So I’m going to relish the snowstorms while I still can.

Enjoy the photos!

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Places

Spring fog

We had some lovely fog during this week. Dreamy but driveable, as I call it: enough visibility on the road to see where you were going, with enough atmosphere to make everything seem otherworldly. As I’m wont to do, I gallivanted through the local forests with my camera, enjoying myself. I couldn’t do it too much, because duty called. In my case, my current duty is to purchase materials and supervise the ongoing restoration work at our country estate: an old Saxon fortified church and parochial house in Magarei, built during medieval times, now in sore need of loving care. So as I was driving back and forth between Mediaș (known in Saxon as Mediasch) and Pelișor (known in Saxon as Magarei), I’d park the car on the side of the road and run off into the forest, camera in hand, clock ticking on my wrist, spend 10-20 minutes hopping over the molehills (there are quite a few of them this year, just about everywhere around Magarei), take my photos, take a few seconds to listen to the sounds of the forest, which are lovely this time of year, then I’d run back to the car to see to my work. Only a few birds have begun to sing among the trees, so what I mostly heard were the sounds of water droplets (fog condensate) falling onto last autumn’s foliage on the ground. It was a lovely sound, a muted sort of “mpphhh” that punctuated the fog-muffled silence of the forest, and since I love silence and hate man-made sounds, it was quite perfect.

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Some mornings I wake up early. It’s not often that it happens. I’m a late sleeper, always have been. But when I do wake up at the crack of dawn and it’s snowing outside, I will get out of bed, put on some warm winter clothes, grab my camera and head out for a walk. Today was one of those days. 

As I write this, about three hours after taking the photos, it’s still snowing lightly. This was a good snowfall. We’ve had some other ones this year, of which one in particular sticks in my mind. It happened earlier this week, with snowflakes almost as big as my palm. That was magical — but it didn’t last. With -1 degrees Celsius outside right now, this snowfall looks like it might last longer than a few hours, so that makes it the first good snowfall of this winter. 

As always, I hope you enjoy the photos. These were taken in the historic town center of Medias — known as Mediasch in German and Medgyes in Hungarian — and known to me as my hometown. 

Places

A morning walk through the snow

Gallery
Places

The fortified church in Mosna

The village of Moșna, known as Meschen in German and Muzsna in Hungarian, is first mentioned in written documents in 1283, and there is evidence that a settlement existed there since the 1st century AD (source). Moşna was also the home of Stephan Ludwig Roth (1796-1849), a famous Saxon priest, pedagogue and human rights campaigner (source).

The Saxon settlers in the area first built a Romanesque basilica in the 13th century, which was then modified and expanded in the late 15th and early 16th centuries in the Gothic style. The man responsible for the project was Andreas Lapicidas of Sibiu (Hermannstadt), a master stone mason, known as Endreas Steinmetz in Sachsen. His initials can be seen inside the church, carved on a lintel.

The Moșna fortified church is one of the biggest in Transilvania and it is a remarkable work of Gothic architecture. The church itself is structured around three naves with ribbed vaults for ceilings. The naves are separated through four pairs of columns, the ones in the west side having been made of bricks and decorated differently so as to preserve the eastern group of columns intact, since the latter was erected using stone from the pillars of the former Romanesque basilica. Inside, the most noteworthy architectural elements are the door to the sacristy, the stone pulpit and the monumental tabernacle which measures 11.05 m in height.

The fortifications include five towers and a 9m defense wall that surrounds the church and allows for ample space inside the fortress. The bell tower has seven levels and three bells, the oldest of which dates from 1515. The gate tower in the south-eastern corner has five levels. The northern side of the fortification is guarded by a tower with four levels. A shorter, three-level tower stands to the south and it hosts a museum dedicated mostly to the trades and customs of the Saxon community but which also includes exhibits discovered during various archaeological explorations, such as coins and fragments of weaponry.

When we visited in 2011, we arrived right around noon, which as some of you may know, is the worst time of the day for photos. I also had with me a camera that was more remarkable for its zoom (30x) than the dynamic range of its sensor and the quality of its photos. I plan to visit again soon and take some photographs that will do the place justice. It’s undergone significant repairs and restoration work since 2011, so it looks different now. We’ve actually revisited it just a couple of months ago, but it was for a photoshoot for Ligia’s ongoing project, Straie Alese, so I didn’t focus on capturing the architecture.

Enjoy the photos!

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